Joseph Thornton sometimes calls himself the “Chosen One.” It’s a nickname he gave himself last year. It is, he said, the version of himself that puts on the pads and plays football.
He’s serious about it. Sort of.
“It’s just my little motivational thing,” Thornton said following the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s afternoon practice Tuesday. “It’s kind of stuck on me now. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with it, because I’ve got to play like the ‘Chosen One.’”
The 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior outside linebacker from Stone Mountain, Ga., played up to his nickname for much of last season. He started all 11 games and finished fourth on the team with 66 tackles.
Thornton was one of the top defensive playmakers in the Southern Conference. He tied for first in the SoCon with 18 tackles for loss and was second in interceptions (4) and forced fumbles (3).
“I surprised myself last year,” he said. “I’m not a big stats person, but if you go out there and do your job, things will fall in place.”
The Mocs’ only returning starter at linebacker, and one of only three on defense, Thornton knows much is expected of him this season. His coaches want him to take more of a leadership role.
“That’s what you expect your most talented players to at some point become. We’re working with him on that,” Mocs coach Rodney Allison said. “He’s got to show it by his actions, and that’s what we want to see.”
Injuries have plagued the Mocs during the preseason — 12 players didn’t practice Tuesday — and Thornton is no exception. A bad right knee sometimes forces him to the sideline during practice, but he said the injury, which involves the patella tendon, is just something he must deal with until he can rest it following the season.
“It’s just something I’ve got to play through,” he said. “Some days I don’t feel like I can go at all, but I’ve just got to deal with it.”
Thornton is one of the best athletes on the team, Allison pointed out, and therefore able to provide flexibility.
“You can play him all the time against any formation (the offense) puts in the game,” Allison said. “He’s versatile; he’s pretty physical; he’s strong; he’s growing up. He’s still got a ways to go, but it’s unlimited what he can do once he makes his mind up to do it.”
The “Chosen One” also expects a lot out of himself and believes he can become a much better player.
“I know I’ve got potential. I know there’s another level inside of me that hasn’t come out yet,” he said. “I’m still learning the game, I’m still young and I’ve got high expectations for my level of play this season.”
When the Mocs open their season at fourth-ranked Oklahoma on Aug. 30, it will be a dream come true for Thornton, who said he’s always wanted to play on such a big stage, in front of about 80,000 people. At the same time, he said, football is football regardless of the setting and the opponent.
“You’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game whether you’re playing Jacksonville (State), Oklahoma or Western Carolina,” he said. “No matter what, I’m going to put on my uniform and go out and try to make plays.”
John Frierson is in his fifth year at the Times Free Press and fifth year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...